A huggable, talking toy is not an entirely new idea, but a new toy robot called TROBO does more than just chatter at kids – he also works alongside an iPad app to help get children excited about STEM topics – that is science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through stories, games and quizzes, TROBO taps into kids’ natural curiosity about the world around them to teach them about science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), 3D printing, the Internet, rockets, engineering, mechanics, math and more.
The toy and app were developed by two Orlando-area engineering dads who left game and theme park development, Jeremy Scheinberg, a University of Pennsylvania engineering grad who has worked on rides and shows for NBC, Universal, Lego and Disney, and Chris Harden, previously a Development Director with EA Sports.
Explains Harden, the idea for TROBO came to them after they had kids themselves, and began to think about how everything in the world affected their children.
“Witnessing his daughter Sophia spend hours learning to be a princess, led Jeremy to want something more foundational for her future. He wanted to share his love of learning technology and engineering with his daughter,” he says. “I had a similar experience with Asher, who spends a significant amount of time with Hot Wheels cars and mindlessly watching cars on YouTube.”
The two ran into each other at a Startup Weekend event in Orlando, and Team TROBO was born. Originally, their idea was to build a programmable robot, Harden says, but later, they decided to shift the idea a bit to involve a talking robot that worked with iPad.
“We agreed that tablets had to be central to the concept, and that a physical experience with emotional companionship was critical to engaging the children,” says Harden.
The team won second place at Startup Weekend, and decided to pursue the idea further. They’re now raising funds on Kickstarter to begin manufacturing the plush toys, run safety tests, and complete the app development. The goal is to raise $60,000, and, as of this morning, they’ve raised over $25,000, with 17 days to go.
The TROBO app will offer an avatar builder, so parents can design an avatar of their child and then insert them – and their child’s name – into the stories with the TROBO robot. The stories also include puzzles in them every few pages to keep kids engaged. And children can choose between two different TROBO plush toys, a boy and girl named Edison and Curie.
Harden says they’re now thinking about allowing a loved one or the child to record the stories in their own voices, as an added feature. That’s a good idea, because the robot voice sounds more than a bit mechanical, and may not encourage the same sort of bonding as you see with other talking toys, like the ever-popular, USB-connected Violet line from LeapFrog, for example.
Early backers on Kickstarter can buy a TROBO for $50 or more, which will be less than the eventual retail pricing (still TBD).